Q: #20. Did God condone slavery?
A: Slavery was a part of the culture in Bible times, and apparently God
accepted it's reality just as He accepted polygamy, divorce, etc... However, God
laid down very strict guidelines on how slaves were to be treated by their
masters, and gave slaves many rights.
They were not to work on the Sabbath (Ex 20:10)(Deut 5:14).
They were to share in religious feasts (Deut 12:12,18)(Deut 16:11,14).
If a slave was killed, the one who killed him was to be put to death (Ex 21:12).
If a slave was seriously injured, he was to be set free (Ex 21:26-27).
Male slaves were to be circumcised so they could become members of God's covenant
If a master had a complaint against a slave, God ordered that there be fairness
given (Job 31:13-15).
Hebrew slaves were to work only 6 years (Ex 21:2)(Deut 15:12), were allowed to
buy their freedom (Lev 25:47-49), were to be released in the Year Of Jubilee no
matter how long they had been slaves (Lev 25:37-43), and were to be given a
liberal supply of food and drink when released (Deut 15:12-14).
If a slave escaped from his owner, he was not to be returned to the owner, but
left alone and not oppressed wherever he chose to go (Deut 23:15-16).
If a slave was gored by an ox, restitution was to be given and the ox was to be
killed (Ex 21:32).
This treatment of slaves certainly differs from the treatment slaves have
received in more recent times. When we hear the term "slavery" today, we
automatically tend to associate it with the examples of slavery we have seen in
the last century or two, with it's racial overtones, physical abuse and torture,
slaves having no rights and being considered little more than dirt, etc...
However, this is NOT a picture of the slavery that is connected with the Bible.
Slavery was not racially motivated. Slaves had rights. God condemned
slave trading (the buying and selling of slaves for profit) (Ex 21:16)(Deut 24:7)
(1 Tim 1:10)(Rev 18:13).
Many people voluntarily made themselves slaves, to pay off a debt they owed
to someone (Lev 25:39-41,47)(Ex 21:2-6)(Neh 5:1-5), or to make restitution for
something they had stolen and couldn't repay (Ex 22:2-3). If they didn't do so,
they would have ended up in debtor's prison.
In addition, some people were made slaves in order to spare their lives after
a military victory (Num 31:15-17)(Gen 14:21). Some feared they would die in war,
and chose to be slaves instead (Josh 9). In some cases, the slaves loved their
masters and became like a part of the master's family (Ex 21:5-6)(Deut 15:16-17)
(1 Chr 2:34-35). Abram was so close to his servant Elisar, that he was going to
make Elisar his heir (Gen 15:1-3), before God finally gave him his sons Ishmael
and Isaac to be heirs.
Historically, many Christians were sold into slavery in the years following
Jesus death. They often brought a higher price than the people of heathen nations,
because Christians were told not to rebel, but rather, to obey their masters and
serve in a way that would bring glory to God (Col 3:22)(Eph 6:5-8)(1 Tim 6:1-2)
(1 Pet 2:18-20)(Titus 2:9-10). Their hard work and dedication became a testimony
of the Lord working in their lives, and as a result, many of their owners and co-
workers became Christians themselves.
In a spiritual sense, all Christians are called slaves to Christ (Eph 6:6).
We are slaves by choice, and we should serve Jesus and others in a way that would
be seen as a light in the world and bring non-believers to Christ through our
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